MORE THAN A TRIAL: The Struggle Over Captain Dreyfus by Robert L. Hoffmann

MORE THAN A TRIAL: The Struggle Over Captain Dreyfus

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

The social and political significance of the famous Dreyfus ""Affair"" has long outweighed the persistent efforts to definitively ""prove"" Dreyfus either innocent or guilty (it's almost certain that he was innocent), so when Hoffmann (History, SUNY, Albany) claims that his effort is worth consideration because he values social analysis over evidentiary matters, one immediately questions his claim. After running through the history of the various trials involved in the twelve-year epic, Hoffmann turns to what are by now the familiar features of the French Third Republic: the upheavals of rural transformation, the Catholic-inspired distrust of democracy and the Protestant social elite, the struggles of monarchists and socialists, the curious centrality of journalists in French culture, etc. Hoffmann puzzles over the ability of anti-Dreyfusards to ignore the evidence and the fixation of Dreyfus' defenders for the ""facts,"" but the contrary poles of positivism and a carefree disregard for empirical evidence have long been features of French intellectual life; moreover, political trials generally--like Sacco and Vanzetti or the Rosenbergs in this country--exhibit a similar pattern. While Hoffmann reviews the French determinants, he makes no effort to situate Dreyfus' trial in a comparative context as one of a type. Though there is nothing wrong with Hoffmann's recapitulation--he correctly discounts the centrality of anti-Semitism in the actual persecution of Dreyfus, for example--there isn't anything that hasn't been said many times already. It hasn't all been said, however, in an account of the case-as-such, so those for whom the Dreyfus Affair remains a cause cÉlèbre may well find it of interest.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1980
Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan